11 October 2015

Spooks 4.4: Road Trip


Road Trip is another episode that I completely misremembered. My recollection was that the majority of the episode was devoted to Adam's trip to the UK in the truck, as the title might suggest, but the actual episode is far superior and much more interesting than that.

It all starts when MI5 discovers a Middle Eastern Prince is running a 'small enterprise' - as he puts it - to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK via a truck that goes from Istanbul. It's a particularly hot topic at time of writing with measures at Calais becoming more and more extreme by the day - on both sides of the law. This episode almost makes it look too easy; these days you'd assume they'd have x-ray scanners and the like, but here it's just a cursory glance and they're waved through. What's especially interesting about this though is that a known terrorist looks set to attempt to gain entry to Britain using it.

With this in mind, Adam flies to Istanbul and gets himself on the lorry. Sure enough the terrorist shows up and Adam's mission to try and turn him is underway. After relations between the pair become fraught after a couple of days' driving though, a seige of the truck is staged and Adam can finally reveal his true colours. He invites the hitman to work as a double agent, and it seems like he agrees.

All the while, the Prince is being kept in his luxury hotel suite under suspicion of being in league with Al Caf, the group the terrorist is believed to be working for. The double agent interviews his London contact and mkes it look like the Prince really is at the heart of all these troubles. And then, as Juliet Shaw overrules Harry, he then gives the Prince the same treatment - or that's the intention. It turns out that his mission all along was to assassinate the Prince and sure enough, once he's within a couple of feet of him, he snaps his neck.

Howard Brenton is one of the best writers Spooks has not just because he has a great sense of story, character, structure, dialogue and all those other things that go into making a great episode, but because he credits all of his pawns with intelligence. The terrorist's initial plan goes awry after he realises he's been rumbled by British Intelligence (surely not a huge surprise given he knowingly murders one of their agents at the top of the episode) but he doesn't give up. He actually turns events in his favour, manipulating the Brits into doing his bidding without them even knowing. In the end, it may not come off as cleanly (he may otherwise have got away with the assassination, but here he's clearly filmed on tape in the act) but the result is the same. He's a clever villain, and to be honest I wouldn't expect any less from Brenton. All of his characters think independently and never become one-note caricatures. Fiona, for example, doesn't just pine for Adam's safety here. This is very much Adam's episode though, something that was possibly needed after the heady madness of the last series finale and the start of this run.

Making sure this episode looks great is Alrick Riley. I'm not educated enough in film to tell you what it is specifically he does differently, but at the risk of sounding pretentious, there's an unusual energy to his episodes. He uses such lovely camera motion and pull focuses, it's a feast for the eyes. He's certainly up there with my favourite directors of the series so far like Jonny Campbell and Bharat Nalluri now. He excels at outdoor spaces too, and he's had ample opportunity to demonstrate that again over the last two episodes. Forests have played a particularly heavy role, and he accurately manages to convey the disorder and sense of confusion they exhibit. Even just as a viewer in your home you feel like there's no way out. That's some powerful film making.

In the nicest way possible, this almost feels like a 'standard' Howard Brenton episode. That's not to say it's average, but it's just reliably excellent from one of the series' strongest writers. I try my hardest not to be prejudiced in my assesment of these stories, but Howard Brenton just simply is a very good writer. Time and again he nails the format and tone, but does something really interesting. Here the hook is a really smart villain whose cunning and intellect you don't fully appreciate until the very end. It's well written, looks sumptuous and is all round another unquestionably adept story to add to the collection.

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